Tigers’ Iglesias transitions from ‘magician’ to mentor

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — In his first couple of seasons with the Tigers, Jose Iglesias’ youthful energy — which some read as immaturity — was as noticeable as his superior skill level at shortstop.

Former manager Brad Ausmus would prod and cajole him to be less of a showman and more of a “meat-and-potatoes” player.

Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias backhands a ground ball during infield practice Monday.

Flash ahead to Iglesias’ first workout of the season on Monday. Manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him aside and asked him to be a mentor, a model for the three middle-infield prospects the Tigers have in camp —Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Harold Castro.

“I know him, I know what he can do with the glove — he’s a magician,” Gardenhire said after Tuesday’s workout. “But doing these drills, I don’t need magicians. I just need him to show us what he learned as a kid growing up.

“He’s far past all this stuff, so rolling balls to him might be a little ridiculous, but I want those kids to understand what we’re doing here.”

And Iglesias, early on, has bought in completely.

“It was very well communicated by him,” Iglesias said. “It was the first time we met and he gave me a vote of confidence; I really appreciated that. It’s that extra energy you want to have, that communication with the skipper.”

Lest you peg him for a wizened old vet, Iglesias would like you to know he’s only 28.

“Yeah, these guys are my age, so I feel comfortable with them,” he said. “And I am willing to help them and I am willing to learn from them. I think we have a really good young-energy team. They want to get better and they want to work hard and that’s the most important thing.”

Iglesias is doing his level best to ignore, or at least compartmentalize, the reality he is facing this season. He was the last arbitration-eligible Tiger to sign, penning a one-year, $6.275 million contract just ahead of arbitration deadline.

And, since he will be a free agent next offseason, he knows there is a good chance he will not finish the season wearing the Old English D.

“I feel comfortable here,” he said. “This is my fifth year here and I love Detroit. But if it’s time to go, it’s not my decision. I’m here as a Tiger. I will compete as a Tiger and I would love to be a part of this team. That’s the most important thing for me.

“But if I need to go, I will go happy because that means another team wants me as well. But I just come here to compete and be the best I can be for the team and the best I can for baseball. Whatever happens, happens. I am ready for everything.”

In the meantime, he’s treating this as just another spring.

“I really don’t want to think about (free agency or being traded),” he said. “Every year is a challenge and every year you set goals. I just want to compete and put myself in a good position to succeed as a baseball player and as a teammate.”